Journalists were given training on mapping tools at a workshop at the GIJC17.  

By Franco Havenga

“Mapping is a very good reporting tool for analysis,” according to Jennifer LaFleur at a workshop on the Basics of Mapping held at this year’s Global Journalism Conference.

LaFleur, a data editor at The Investigative Reporting Workshop, lead the session on creating maps from data, a technique called mapping which has improved the quality of investigative stories.

“This workshop is really not to get people to extensively work with the program, but it’s just to show them the power of it so that they can learn more later,” said LaFleur.

Andy Lehren, an investigative reporter at NBC and the New York Times, helped journalists to keep up with the interactive workshop.

He shared an example of the power of mapping: “For the New York Times, we’re really looking closely at who was harmed by the hurricanes that struck Houston.” By mapping the hurricanes, reporters have been able to see where real estate agents have taken advantage of buyers by selling houses in risky areas. Mapping as a technique was instrumental in exposing the unethical conduct of real estate agents in this instance.

Lehren encouraged South African journalists to use data analysis to draw interesting maps for new stories. “One could use crime figures and census data for Johannesburg for example, to see where crime is really happening, instead of just relying on police reports.”

Basit Ali Khan from Pakistan said: “I mostly work on data, so I found the software we used very helpful.” He added that he learned more about visualising data at the conference.

Gabriel Labrador from El Salvador said: “I have some knowledge of data analysis, but by using mapping you can delve deeper into the data.”

Labrador said that he was surprised by how easy the software works. “I want to use mapping to write a story about dangerous buildings that got hit by earthquakes in my country.”

About 20 journalists attended the workshop to learn how to start using mapping effectively in ArcGIS, a program to work with maps and geographic information.

Although some of the journalists have worked on database analysis and spreadsheets, everybody was new to desktop mapping as presented in the workshop.